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1900: Two Queens

Librettist’s Introduction

The story of gay life in the twentieth century ‐ leaving aside a lot of people simply living, loving and enjoying themselves ‐ is the story of an epic battle between repression and liberation. Add in, too, a strong dose of self‐oppression, because much of the struggle on the part of Gay Rights activists was against other gay people: the struggle to convince them that they deserved rights.

So, where better to start with the icon of repression, Queen Victoria, pitted against the prophet of self-expression and self-fulfilment, Oscar Wilde?

Queen Victoria

It is 30 November 1900, in a small bedroom at the dingy Hotel d’Alsace in Paris. The Angel of Death is hovering over Wilde, and he is on the point of departure from this life, when Queen Victoria appears in the room.

She is less than two months away from her own death: 81 and enormously fat. [She had a 50‐inch waist, judging from the pair of her bloomers which survive in the V & A.] She was also blind.

We allow Victoria to walk a little in this piece, to make it more visual, and because it is fantasy, most of the other details used in this piece are true.

Researching the piece, I was struck, as I did not expect to be, by similarities between them. Both were outsiders in their society. Victoria’s first language was German, which was spoken in the Royal Household in private, and she retained a German accent; she was brought up in isolation, married a German, had few intimate friends.

Oscar Wilde

Wilde was an Irish parvenu who got rid of his accent to further his career. Both infected their families ‐ Victoria with haemophilia and Wilde with syphilis. Both adored sex.

Despite this enthusiasm, Victoria has become a byword for prudishness, humourlessness, and censorship. This was the legacy bequeathed her by her overbearing and manipulative husband, Prince Albert.

So, the two Queens square up to each other. Because the viewpoint is Wilde’s, Victoria is, of course, Lady Bracknell. Repression vs liberation ‐ let battle commence!

Composer’s Introduction

This project is a series of ‘Chamber Operas’, each no more than about one hour in duration.

When we started working on this expansive project an early decision was made to limit the resources required to perform each work to seven to include characters on stage and orchestral musicians.

For ‘Two Queens’ the vocal characters are Queen Victoria ‐ a Contralto role, Oscar Wilde ‐ a Baritone and a non‐singing role of a page boy ‐ which I suggested we add to give support to the ageing queen(!) and some fluency in the staging.

This then allowed the luxury of adding four musicians, Piano, Flute, Violin and Cello to create the supporting accompaniment.

Different variations of this grouping will be used significantly in further operas in this series.

The title ‘Two Queens’ seems to suggest a majestic romp, full of pomp and yet the circumstances could not be further from the truth.

The libretto speaks openly to musical interpretation and I have attempted to make the music both accessible and interesting to singers, musicians and audience alike. Something that will echo throughout the whole project.

Resources: Performers ‐ Contralto, Baritone, Non‐singing page boy. Players ‐ piano, flute, violin, cello.

Duration: 48 minutes

Sources:

Read the Score and listen to the Music

Read the Script

Zoom rehearsed reading of the Two Queens libretto

All work is copyright of Peter Scott‐Presland and Robert Ely. Anyone interested in performing all or part of it should email info@homopromos.org

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